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Photographer: What Is Needed to Start a Career in Photography?

Photographers need some formal education, depending on their specialty. Learn more about the education and job duties to see if this is the right career for you.

In order for someone to become a professional photographer, there is no educational element required but it is strongly recommended individuals learn the field through a college degree or formal training. A photography career will have you capturing images, preparing lighting and editing photos with computer software in both commercial and freelance environments where you may earn a median salary of $31,710.

Essential Information

Photography careers are available in commercial photography, photojournalism and scientific photography. The photography job market is expected to be competitive, and individuals who are new to the field may have to start as assistants or self-employed freelancers. Work in some specialty fields may require a college degree or formal training.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent
Other Education Bachelor's degree for certain specialties
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3%
Median Salary (2015)* $31,710

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Information for Photographers

While education isn't a requirement for some jobs, individuals who wish to work in certain fields, such as photojournalism, may need a college degree. Students may choose from photography, photojournalism or related programs, which may be housed in communication and journalism schools. Coursework specific to photography may include topics in history, multimedia, styles and techniques.

Some photography programs may allow students to design portions of their curriculum with the assistance of a faculty advisor. Besides coursework, students may also spend time working in studios and putting a portfolio together. Programs may offer industry-specific training, such as editing and creating photo stories. Students may also consider doing an internship to gain relevant work experience.

Employment Information for Photographers

Photographers capture images for commercial, artistic or educational purposes. These professionals are able to consider issues such as placement and lighting. Photographers also need editing skills, which may include being familiar with editing software. Interpersonal skills are useful for making subjects comfortable or working with clients on a project.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), roughly 60% of all photographers were self-employed in 2014. Salaried photographers may work in portrait studios, broadcasting companies or publishing. Entry-level photographers may begin their careers by assisting established photographers, then advance with experience.

Career Outlook

The BLS indicated that employment of photographers was expected to increase three percent from 2014-2024, which is slower than the national average of seven percent for all career fields. Some of the contributing factors include the increase of print and Internet-based magazines. Despite the slower-that-average growth in employment, the job market would remain competitive, and there may be fewer salaried positions available due to many companies hiring freelancers. Individuals with previous work experience and photo editing skills may have an advantage.

Salary Information

In May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual earnings of a photographer were $31,710. In 2013, photographers working in scientific and technical services industries earned mean annual wages of $33,470, the radio and television broadcasting industries paid photographers mean earnings of $43,290, while photographers for publishers of items like newspapers and books earned mean wages of $43,090.

The career of a photographer will typically involve capturing images, preparing placement and lighting as well as editing images within computer software. While there's no formal education required to enter this profession, a college degree will help you learn the photography skills necessary and allow you to enter certain fields such as photojournalism. However, many people who pursue this career may find themselves self-employed and earning a median salary of $31,710.

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